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Business Body Language

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 17 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Body Language Body Language

Most of us go about our day-to-day lives having conversations with people without giving much thought to the ‘way’ we communicate. However in business it’s as much about ‘how’ we portray ourselves when we communicate as it is about the message we are trying to get across. Politicians are a very good example in the study of body language. Every day, journalists scrutinise not only their every word but their facial and bodily expressions as well and try to analyse if they’re not telling the truth or if they’re trying to conceal certain issues and in business too, your body language says far more about you than the words will ever do. In fact, research studies have estimated that perhaps as much as 55% of all communication is based upon what people see and not what they hear. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common aspects of body language and what it conveys about us.


Making eye contact is the most obvious way to demonstrate that you are listening to somebody. When you’re looking at the other person’s face as they’re speaking, it shows that you are listening to what they’re saying. There is however a subtle difference between looking at somebody and staring at them so it’s important that you do occasionally move your eyes and many business people will say that focusing on the tip of the other person’s nose or mouth seems more comfortable than staring right into their eyes if you’re engaged in an intense conversation and they won’t even know you’re doing that. So, whilst it’s acceptable to avert your gaze every now and then to avoid showing aggression, you should look at the person about 60% of the time to show that you’re listening to them. Another interesting point is that if a person is talking to you and not looking at you whilst doing so, it can sometimes indicate that they might not be telling you the whole truth or they may be concealing something.

Facial Expression

It costs nothing to smile and in fact smiling uses less muscles than frowning and a smile is a positive way to send out the right message in all aspects of life apart from, perhaps, when you’re hearing or conveying bad news. Pursing your lips or twisting them to one side usually indicates that you’re either thinking deeply about something that’s been said to you or you are holding something back.


If you keep your head straight when you are talking, it will make you appear self-assured and authoritative which is useful if you are giving a presentation or making a speech. On the other hand, it is also used if you are on the defensive e.g. if you are being reprimanded. However, if you want to appear open and friendly during a conversation, you’ll often find that people will tilt their head to one side as they listen or speak. Nodding your head occasionally as you listen to somebody also gives them the sign that you are actively listening to what they’re saying.

Hands and Arms

Your hands and arms can give so much away about you and can also be used to your advantage. Arms folded makes you appear very defensive and wary about the person you are speaking to or completely disinterested in them and what they have to say whilst waving your arms about can convey enthusiasm to some but can be perceived as a sign of immaturity or uncertainty by others. Your best bet would be to adopt the policy of keeping your arms by your side. When you do that, it makes you appear confident, yet relaxed. What you do with your hands is equally important too and even more so when dealing with certain other cultures where the ability to be able to see your hands is important in some cultures overseas.

Even here in the UK business world, it’s considered rude to talk to people with your hands in your pockets, behind your back or concealing them under the table. Conversely, it can be highly irritating to talk to somebody who emphasises every comment they make by the animated use of their hands. Watch TV news or sports reporters occasionally. Even some of the supposed best ones have this annoying habit of ‘talking with their hands’. Your hands can’t speak so don’t let them run riot although you can sometimes emphasise a point occasionally by using your hands or fingers, just don’t overdo it. Also, don’t fidget, rub your neck or run your fingers through your hair. These are signs of a flirtatious nature and we can often not realise we’re doing it when speaking to someone we’re physically attracted to but these actions have no place in doing business.

Body Posture

The golden rule about body posture can often be traced back to when you were a young child starting out at school and it holds just as true in the adult business world. Sitting up or standing erect shows a sign of alertness and enthusiasm whilst hunched shoulders and a slumping posture indicate tiredness and disinterest and no-one wants to do business with people who are lethargic. Slightly leaning towards people also gives a signal that you want to hear more about what they have to say whilst leaning away demonstrates that you cannot wait for the conversation to end.


You can often tell who’s feeling nervous in a business setting such as a board meeting by observing a person’s legs when they are sat down. If they move their legs a lot, it’s a sign of anxiety or nerves. You also need to be careful when it comes to crossing your legs. For women especially, it can send out totally the wrong signals. The most advisable things to do with your legs are either to place both feet flat on the floor or if you feel more comfortable crossing your legs, do so at the ankles. Worse still and a sign of cockiness or arrogance are those people (almost certainly always men) who rest one leg or ankle on top of the other knee. Commonly referred to as the ‘Figure 4’ position, it can often put people right off you before you’ve even spoken to them.


Not always that easy to gauge, ‘personal space’ is something you need to be aware of. If you’re in conversation and get too close to the other person, it may make them think of you as too pushy and, conversely, standing too far away can make you appear stand-offish so you need to try to find a happy medium. Often, this will simply come naturally to you but if you’re unsure, you can often take your cues from the other person – get too close and they’ll step back a little, too far and then usually come towards you.

Many of the things discussed here will come naturally to you anyway, if you’ve had a lot of experience of communicating in the business world. The important thing to remember is to be sure that the message you are trying to convey in conversation is matched by the messages and signals your body language is giving off as it can make the entire difference between a productive conversation or meeting and a disastrous one.

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To Whom It May Concern: What is the modern-day thinking when it comes to the use of electronic devices in the workplace?I'm talking about such things as texting during staff meetings or while customers are waiting to be acknowledged and served.I have a co-worker who has been observed doing that, and since she is very new to being exposed to the workplace in general, I don't think she's aware that her behavior can be very rude and inappropriate.I've been told by my supervisor to mind my own business, as what someone else in our department does or doesn't do is none of my concern.However, I feel that this type of behavior is very rude and disrespectful (albeit unintentional on the part of my coworker) to the customers we serve.I've also observed this type of behavior being exhibited by others in a much higher position and do the same thing.I also don't like it when this is being done when I'm the customer at other business establishments.
TraceyJ - 17-Sep-12 @ 6:38 PM
Though some of them I have already read, Some more new points I came to know. Q:How to Manage the uneasiness,(rather irritation,fear and anger) and retain confidence level before and after meeting a fault finding and arrogant superior.
vasu - 8-Jul-12 @ 3:37 PM
It's also important to allow someone space. Getting too close - invading their personal space as they used to say - can seem threatening and causes people to back away. A respectful distance, close but not too close, is aptly professional and works for a business environment. Similarly, don't position yourself too far away or you'll seem timid, which isn't good, either.
Gavin - 7-Jun-12 @ 2:14 PM
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